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    Saturday, March 20, 2010

    Review - Final Fantasy..

    Much can be said about a series such as Final Fantasy, in terms of what it is and what it represents to the huge armies of fans of all ages.. a series that's been known for it's imagination, the memorable characters, it's complex battle systems, and the intricate stories and worlds that acts all well together, delivering an experience not less than a fantasy of its own.. With major milestones like FF II, VII (and VII CC), IX and X (my opinion for the best FFs, what about you?), the series made sure our hands would sweat clinching our controllers, waiting for the next release.. And our jaws to drop after experiencing the wholesome number of hours spent trying to survive through one epic story after another..

    As much as that image will remain glorified in the hearts and minds of hardcore fans, the series did manage to flop a couple of times.. A stray from the complicated stories in VIII, or the seemingly feminist approach of X-2, or the trial-and-error of the battle system of XII, the image of the series was never shook down by the failures, but ironically kept the people asking for more and more..  And people asked for a next-gen fantasy, and SquareEnix delivered FF XIII..

    So, to the many of you, was it worth the wait? Or was it a Flat Fantasy? To me, i'm torn halfway in between..

    [ am a big fan of the series, so expect a long one ]

    My trip of question marks started right at the beginning, when I loaded the BluRay, and thought there would be some flashy standby screen with a hint of music, as i always like to keep them before i get ready to play a game.. You know, making that tea and getting those snacks ready.. Well, i spent a cold quite 15 minutes in the kitchen, only to see a blue disc on my screen telling me that a "Final Fantasy 13" game is waiting.. As shallow as this may seem, you can't blame me for expecting nothing less than a hit PS3 title for a series i've been following ever since my first FF on the NES..

    My first reaction? "This game is too epic to have a standby screen, oh yeah baby"..

    So, for the readers who's here for the good points about the game, let's start with those and get them out of the way..

    The Graphics in this game is probably the most, if not the only, selling point to any average gamer out there, and more-than-enough "shut your complaining mouth" to any hardcore fan of the game.. With an environment so detailed, just a quick glance at things would tell you the amount of thought put into it, and that every stone and every shining crystal and every weird looking robotic behemoth were placed where they should be, and they were all gorgeous.. It makes any other game look bleak and dead compared to the number of colors you'll come across in this game (i think I can't deny that i spend most of my time rolling around my R3 stick, just giving one standing ovation after another to what seems to be, IMO, one of the greatest real-time rendered environments you can ever find in any game so far (didn't play GoW3 yet, since it's banned, so i might change my mind when i do).. 

    At some parts of the game, the line between game graphics, and CG cut scenes, is so blurry, I actually stopped telling my wife which is which.. I was very assured that with an engine such as the White Engine , things would at least deliver a visual orgasm.. And for a gamer who loves to see a good polygon put to use, this game seriously deserved a place on my shelve..

    As much as I will discuss the story and plot (ugh!) later on, nothing made the experience bearable like those amazingly directed CG cut scenes, and the smaller cutscenes that delivered a story in a way that is nothing less but SE's signature, a Visual muscle show of talent, and a directing skill fit to knock down any hollywood release..

    The 3D design of the characters and the amount of work put under the hood of this behemoth of a game is actually stunning.. Rather than creating a new approach, why not just perfect the already existing successful formula? With the White engine at one hand, and the brilliant design of characters and the modeling of their movements, you can tell that this game well deserves the GB chunk of blu-ray it consumes.. At point, especially when playing with Lightning (the cover female character), not on a single frame does her cloak ever go into her body (a common design flaw in many caped heros).. And the way the environmental lighting flares and interacts with the player, along with the foes you meet, it seems that all blend so skillfully, you can't help but admire that if it's one thing those nerds at square do best, is take care of their characters..

    Fortunately, the feel-good trip of the game didn't just stop at the graphics.. The battle system is both well-designed, and easy to figure out.. And not easy to figure out, as in a short learning curve to a very complicated system, but really EASY to figure out.. SE really did an amazing job simplifying a fighting system that's been  turn off for many who don't want to enter the genre because of it.. And for those familiar with the classic RPG style, this battle system is actually a revolution with a twist.. While you still wait for your time gauge to fill up, a time where i usually munch on something, i can't do that anymore because there's so much going on, and so much you can do to prepare for your next move + the amazing visuals and the scenarios of each fight (with a controllable camera angle) that makes this RPG an actual thrill to play (an almost equal thrill to an action game).. The strategy in the battle system is a sweet merger of classic Role Playing (thank god they avoided the FFXII mistakes), a hint of what Crisis Core in the way you fight with your Summons, and the newly added Paradigm shift (a list of status changes for your players to fit the fighting style, or situation you're in, and a useful trick to fill your time gauge quickly btw) and the staggering system (which is very much a tide-turner in terms of almost losing a fight, to suddenly finding the glory moment to kick ass).. Between spending the time fighting, and creating a wide sortation of paradigm shifts, all work so well together, you'd feel very natural to play around..

    And from this point in this review, i can start listing what disappointed me in the game, in relation to the battle system first, and down hill from there..

    It seems that SE really focused on making this game enjoyable to everyone, even if it was on the expenses of the high expectations of the fans..

    The simplicity of learning the fights isn't the issue, since it still relies on classic approaches of knowing your enemy's weak points, with more systems to help you fight some really annoying foes, and some really REALLY hard to finish in less than 15 minutes kind of foes right at the end of the game (WITH THE STAGGER ON 300% MIND YOU).. It's the fact that this installment in the series let go of many of the classical elements of RPG's that it's becoming a weird form of gaming experience to FF veterans, and a joy ride to anyone new to the series.. I mean, this may sound sadistic, but FF was all about mastering a complicated battle system, and watch the newbies suffer as they learn how to shuffle attacks between 3+ players at the same time (while remembering each player's job title and power-attacks).. But in this series, SE limited the player to controlling ONE player at a time.. Yes, you can control the weapons, techniques and leveling-development of all your characters, and may shuffle around playing them as the story sees fit, but during any fight, you're only controlling ONE player, and can only control the Job status of your other players..

    Now, despite how this took 70% of the RPG thinking process out of the chain, this really becomes boring at points when one of your team mates starts casting weird ass spells that make no relation to your foes's weakness, and also wasting a hefty sum of Phoenix downs on their sorry behinds every time they fail to comply with you.. In addition, one of the MAJOR flaws of the ONE player fighting system in this game, when you get knocked out, the game is over.. Back in the good old days, when one character dies, you can set another character to use Phoenix Down, and you're back in the game.. if this game teaches you anything, YOU come first, and your team mates come later (completely opposite to what the game used to rely on)..

    Another down point, which maybe it's just me over reacting, the game is too easy.. TOO EASY.. In the first couple of hours alone, you can save your game before and after EVERY cutscene (be it in-game, or CG), and that maybe a good point, since i managed to actually scratch my nose, pick up the groceries and throw out the trash since i know i just saved, it just took a good taste of how terrified a player can get to lose a fight, making it that extra special to master.. And Don't worry, the classic Square signature of going back to the title screen when you die is not there anymore.. You're simply asked to Retry..

    Linearity in this game is probably the most debated issue about it all over the web, and between all fan groups, and indeed it's an issue that CAN be overlooked at points, but becomes really annoying at allot of other points.. The story's development is actually begging you to either run from something, or run to catch something, or just run from one long bridge to another long corridor.. It seems as if the story was designed to be linear at the first 10-15 hours, and then explode in diversity and exploration afterwards (you're in for a treat when you reach that far, trust me).. Again, a very good point for anyone new to the series, but really ticked me off at points (the graphics numbed the pain).. The environments were designed in such an excellent way, for the untrained RPG gamer, it gives an illusion of variety and depth, while one good look at the map can expose how flat the arena is.. If you focus on the story and the battle system a bit more than the lack of exploration, you'll be exploring soon before the joy of battle wears off.. But to me, i nearly was knocked dead yawning, after fighting one herd of enemies after another in one long corridor.. Yes, the in-game cutscenes are cheerful and can take your mind off of it, but the replay value is already diminishing since i know if i skip the cutscenes, the game would end being (from start to finish) : Run - Fight - Fal'cie? FOCUS - Run - Fight - Ball - Run - Fight - Ball - Run - Fight - Eidolooooooon!!!! - Ball - Ball - EXPLORE - Great Ending! ((i won't skip the ending, it's actually good))

    The Linearity doesn't stop here, and this is why it's an issue with allot of gamers.. Similar to the Crystal grid system of X, where your'e allowed to develop different areas of your characters and different weapon directions and the sort, the Crystarium (used when you obtain enough CP -Crystal Points DUH- ) is very linear.. And i mean Very Linear.. You're basically collecting enough CP's to reach the next point, not to branch out in whatever way you like.. The only diversity is actual choice you're given is what job status to develop, nothing more, nothing less.. Simple for the n00bz, not so much of a turn on for me.. I miss the hours spent thinking which development is better, now all i did was enjoy the High-Def colors and pretty lightings and shiny stuff, as i press a button to proceed to HP +100 or learn a magic skill that am destined to learn anyways.. It kills the thrill..

    For any other FF game (except for the horrendous X-2 feminine crap galore, or the soapy mushy story of VIII) this is not completely truthful, since the story is basically the main spine of any FF epic out there.. Story is probably why the first installments of the series are still playable to date, and still has a special place in terms of how the story was actually one of the first epics i came across since an early age..

    As for the Story of FFXIII, let me just bullet point what i have to say to avoid reaching my limit without blowing up in anger (hulk smash):

    • To many, it seems as if it's just another japanese melodrama like any other JRPG out there, with the girls cute as a button, and the guys hunky and dreamy..  i wish this was a regular Shoujo manga.. The story is almost MAYBE-interesting, with a see-through plot and a hunk of similarities to FFVII that made it at least a bit bearable to live through.. Lightning to Cloud, Sazh to Barret..etc

    • The plot is not complicated enough to make you wonder, but it is shallow enough and cheesy enough that made me feel embarrassed to witness at points.. I know that cheesiness is a good chunk of the feeling in any FF, but not to this extent.. To those who might remember the two giggling girls walking past snow "hehehehehe, who is he" "heheheheh i don't know him but i want to" "hehehehhe" "hehehehehe" Seriously!!?? And you'll see that at some points, when you thought things couldn't get cheesy, a really really REALLY bad joke or remark comes along..

    • The dialogue between the characters is good, but too weak for Final Fantasy standards.. I mean, the expected "am a cool hero" come backs, or the "am a tough mommy" jokes are way over the edge.. At points, i wanted to really punch Snow in the face for his lines, that were probably stolen from the OC.. I don't know about the Japanese version, because it seemed much better, but the dialogue did a bad job delivering the thrill of the story, or making you relate to the characters..

    • The voice-over and the lip-syncing was decent and way better than any recent title (not top notch though).. However, if there's any complaint I have over this, amongst some minor few, there is one.. Venille.. Do i even need to say anything more?

    in defense of this series that i admire, the story was delivered well through the CG and it had an almost good climax at the end, and to be honest, as much weak and flat the story was, it wasn't unbearable to the extent of repulsing me.. I actually enjoyed myself playing it, and that all that matters.. Right?

    NO!.. The story wasn't up to the standards that were set high by it's predecessors, and surely didn't live up to the hype it gathered over the delayed release dates.. I kind of saw this coming when Leyona Zeft Louis came along to promote how the graphics were "Brilliant", because there was little left to promote to the mainstream players.. DAMN YOU, MAIN STREAM MEDIA!!..

    Many would blame the 360, which made the developers choose to reduce the game quality in terms of complexity of gameplay, graphics and depth of story.. But that's not closest to the case.. The game was originally designed for the PS3, and then ported out to the 360.. Explains why the graphics are better on the PS3, and it took 3 DVD's to fit a blu-ray based game.. I'm more inclined to blaming Square, tbh.. They're the one who chose to write the story, they're the ones who branched out their working force over 4 different titles at the same time, reducing the quality of work, and they're the ones that are straying from whatever they delivered back in X, which back then was thought as an OK story and maybe Great at points..

    Finally, the Soundtrack.. As much as the story plays a role in making the characters memorable, the sound track is FF's signature in our cerebrum.. Yoko Shimomoura and Nobuo Uematsu managed to deliver musical epics that are still around my iPod, and brings chilling memories when i remember it's themes and parts of whatever story it relates to.. Yet their spirit isn't there anymore..

    Now, with many games developing classic musical scores, that are equally authentic and are icing on their perfect cakes, this international version of the game is nothing more than generic final fantasy music (if such a term exists).. Forget about Aeris's theme, forget about Suteki da ne, forget about it all, because Leona Louis (third mention in one blog i think) did one awful job that made me lower down the volume, i swear.. And the fighting music can get very annoying and neurotic at points, it's better to listen to your iPod while you're at it, god knows the story won't pull those ear buds out unless a CG scenes comes in..

    As a closing statement, despite the anger i spewed over the past paragraphs, Final Fantasy still is a good game, and still is better than the previous titles (anything after X, that is), and still is offering new good things on the table, one can only hope that they'd focus on the story next time, now that they proved they can manage a good battle system, and a good graphics engine.. Not that big kaboom that i expected, but am not the only target customer (although i should be considered), so i'll enjoy this one for what it's worth.. I already saved the exploring parts in different saves, so i can go back and enjoy a couple of ass kicking (mine or theirs) every now and then..

    But the game isn't bad at all, just a bit depressing.. a BIT..

    Score: 8/10


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